scorpions to desire

Yesterday, in a pocket-hour of warm air, I was reminded of my spring running lament: is one really a vegan when one inhales gnat sandwiches? The absurdity of that thought of a bug diet was not unlike a sign for a neighbour I read on my return to my building: "Crazy woman! Stop throwing cacti about the building! Clean up that mess." (Indeed, we all heard a moment of anger and something being jettisoned in the early hours...but, a cactus?!) It's the element of the unexpected that's the theme of this running post.
Last time I wrote, I was sure sick days off were going to ruin my running gains. As it is, for over a week now, several minutes have been shaved off my time per mile, without my trying since I try to execute "easy days easy". It's unexpected. I also noted that even though I thought that I'd finished getting all the new fancy muscle through just running, I keep visibly gaining muscle. I keep planning to add in strength work, but up to now, I think that would be overkill for me because I can see (and feel, through sustainable exhaustion) that my body is responding to running. This is another reason why I felt so vindicated reading Murakami's book on running: he also considers running the activity he responds best to on a physical level. Before taking up running again in this latest phase of my life, I'd been doing multiple two-hour exercise sessions of squats, etc., none of which built the muscle I now have. The take away here being: we really are an experiment of one. As support, I'll cite Jack Daniels, who is adamant about this.
The race I am training for suddenly lost its accreditation (unpaid bills) and I'll need to take another (unexpected) break from training. But I have yet to develop the race mindset where the race prevails over training in importance. My goal is to increase speed to increase daily quality of life (seeing more sights on daily runs; saving a little time for other things). Then again, last year, I didn't care about speed at all, so things change.


I was contemplating Jamil's journey to Barkley this year, documented for all of us to watch (Gary has done the same). I guess I should say firstly that I don't think there are many parallels to be drawn between runners like them and me, but what I do get out of watching such videos is a chance to see different people's running form and think about my own, just like back in the day when I was an aspiring capoerista, we would watch film of other capoeristas to inspire our own moves.
There are worlds that divide elites from amateurs. Still, the imagination wishes to reach those distant shores, and it was while thinking of Jamil's narrative that I was reminded of Rumi's lines: "Dear soul, if you were not friends with the vast nothing inside, why would you always be casting your net into it, patiently? ... God has allowed a magical reversal to occur, so that you see the scorpion pit as an object of desire." Is not fortitude and endurance the training to have a realistic chance at something that without that training (either intense or over years - the latter being the more Taoist approach) would be impossible, unexpected?
It is so easy to live a life without doing the training. But it is so possible to do the training and gain the peace that comes with knowing, through practice, what is and isn't within one's reach (the wild card of the unexpected victories or failures notwithstanding: I am generalising here). What I mean is something like what Seneca writes about how philosophy "is not a random assignment but a regular appointment", for it is the activity that frees one from sickness, and when we are sick, we do all we can to get well. You can find that passage, with a great complementary passage by Epictetus that mentions exercise, here. The effort towards mastery can change our perspective on scorpions, though (as Epictetus warns) this does not mean we are invincible - in fact, that latter mind set he calls sickness.
Once upon a time when I was small, some family friends were what I guess we today call "adventurers". They knew how to collect emergency potable water from a bit of plastic and trash, what to do when bitten by snakes, where to look for water in deserts, etc. The things that scare most people were to them problems that have solutions. Here's to those trails that lead to "there"...

Brush: from the much-missed pugly pixel.
Some trails are hemmed in by boats.

masters in training

There is an old story from the monasteries in the Eastern church that tells of an abbot who had lived a chaste life but who, on his death bed, was visited by the devil who complimented him on his achievements, to which the abbot, instead of saying, thanks be to God's great mercy, took the compliment for himself, and so, the story goes, lost his soul in the final moment after an entire life of spiritual exploits and accomplishments. The story has been on my mind because I was reminded again this week that the battle is daily, and it is never like one will wake up on this earth and get to say, good on me for that final victory, now, let me rest on my laurels!
After a surprise day of full-on sun shininess, today the rain came bringing with it that special silence that is so nice to run in, conducive, too, to the philosophical mantle I have put on (in case you didn't notice from the previous paragraph) since last week when I sequested myself in my version of sick bay for a few days (stomach virus). Training screeched to a halt again, this time involuntarily, and at first, I felt jolted by the stopped momentum and mourned the empty days gathering in my training log. Will I be marathon ready, was the question of the day, along with that other question that has to do with speed, since I was just beginning to get faster thanks to the training plan. So I sat down with myself and had a good talk (this was before I remembered that old story mentioned above).


Me: blank stare of disappointment.
Me: There there. It will all turn out all right, you'll see. It's time to fill out those adult-sized shoes you wear and pull your socks up. While youth can afford to huff and puff over foiled plans, you are "masters" age now, and ought to have learned to take things in stride, roll with the punches.
Me: cow-eyed stare.
Me: [Invoking, *cough*, ripping off sentences from Seneca:] Carry on, ... and hurry up, so you don't ... wind up learning as an old woman. Actually, hurry all the more since you've already started in on a topic which you could scarcely master as an old woman. 'How much progress will I achieve?' Only as much as you attempt. What are you waiting for? Wisdom doesn't come to anyone by chance ... virtue will not drop into  your lap. Nor is it learned by just a bit of work or by a small effort ...
Me: You mean, despite my disappointment, I now also have to make an additional effort?!


I read somewhere that many runners are a tad obsessive, and while this happens to be true of me, it is never fun having to deal with it when the obsessiveness gets crossed by obstacles. It is weird having to admit here that even slow-pokes can be obsessive about their running, despite no laurels to obsess about, but there you are.
Since obsessiveness is an obstacle to wisdom, which is a fancy word for "living the good life", once I donned the above-mentioned philosophical mantle, I decided to try to teach my obsessiveness the LSD, after first teaching it the ABC's (cue laugh track).
Every time I feel that impulse to get sad over unplanned skipped training days, or fears over lost speed, I tell myself I am meant to act like a "master" now, and when that doesn't work (talk about anti-motivation: "act like an adult because you're suppose to be one!"), I have been following the "red thread" of passion, and playing running. There is no room for obsessiveness in play.
Let me tell you about some games! Though I'd stopped listening to music on runs, I've recently started to listen to Monstercat podcasts on some, which brings me to the playground not just because of the chiptunes on various tracks, but also because of the segments where the "Monstercat family" "says hello". The elan with which some of those youngsters take to the mic inspireds me with what I'll call a fearlessness of engaging with process.


Rather than get all philosophical (ahahaa), I'll just speak in pictures about what I mean. A form of that kind of play is parkour: which is the art of learning to move past obstacles graciously, through one's own effort. I love watching parkour videos, particularly from Slavic-speaking countries, and recommend Cherepko, "Stranik", and Polych. But to illustrate what I mean about a fearlessness of engaging with process, I'll direct anyone interested to two videos.
The first, Stranik's "dance on iron", is a beautiful meditation and filmed labour of love for the process that is training, about someone who loves training. I mention it here because as training exists as a way to move towards a goal, it could potentially spark fear when one feels that one has invested so much and it might not pay off. By contrast, this video shows an alternative path to the goal: namely, dogged, humourous love. (Speaking of humour and also of creativity, although the video moves very slowly, this other one is such a fun and Drunken Masterish and beautiful little story - but all of his videos are great.)
Sticking with Stranik, "flight memory" continues the theme of earnestness from "dance on iron" but is a more poetically unified video: portraying the reigns of training as a smiling passion. (I think in part when I write that of the Charioteer of Delphi.) This is a message for masters in training.

Brush: Misprinted Type.
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